Now playing in theaters is Walt Disney Animation Studios Big Hero 6. Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, the fantastic film follows robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) who, after a tragic event, turns to inflatable and huggable robot companion Baymax (Scott Adsit). With a dangerous plot unfolding on the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro transforms a group of like-minded friends – adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago (Jamie Chung), precision freak Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), chemistry whiz Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) and fanboy Fred (T.J. Miller) – into high-teach heroes determined to solve the mystery and save the day.
At the recent Los Angeles press day I landed an exclusive interview with T.J. Miller. He talked about what it was like doing the voice-over work, the incredible animation, how the story changed during production, what it’s been like working with Mike Judge on Silicon Valley and what’s coming up on season 2, and a lot more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
How are you doing?
I have no friends that are actors that have done eight hours of interviews for multiple days and end up losing their minds, I’ve never heard this before.
MILLER: Never heard of it. Well actually, a movie like this, and I do love Collider, so I’m excited to talk.
I appreciate that. We have five readers.
MILLER: [Laughs] No six, because sometimes I read it. The density and the way that these films are layered gives you a lot to talk about, so I find that I repeat certain themes, but I can usually find something new about them. And a couple times, things that we talked about, I learned a new thing about the film. Somebody mentioned – school mascot by day and school mascot by night – he’s kind of like a mascot for the group. And I was like, “Yeah, and then he’s cheerleading them, yeah, to go on this journey.” And then I was like, “And he doesn’t go to school there, just like he doesn’t do science, but he’s a science enthusiast, he must be an enthusiast for this school if he’s being the mascot and he’s not even enrolled as a student.” I didn’t even think of that and I’ve been spending two years doing this character.
From when you signed on to what people are seeing on screen, how much changed with the story and the characters?
MILLER: A lot changed. Remember, I don’t really – you don’t know a lot about the movie outside of your scenes. I’m not Hiro and I’m not Baymax, so I don’t see the bulk of the film. They told me a little bit as I became friends with Don Hall and Chris Williams and Roy Conli – Roy Conli is one of the most fun people in the world – you hear a little bit about how “we’re going to go this route”. I know that Fred wasn’t always a billionaire, that kind of became this discovery that you get about him. He wasn’t a sign spinner – they found out that I was a sign spinner when I first came to LA and I think they considered that as one of his – at one point that was one of his super powers, because it was less about his tech suit and more about him being funny and weird and esoteric, but then he does get to set the signs on fire [laughs].
The animation in this is breathtaking.
It’s jaw-dropping, it’s so…
It’s beautiful to look at. When did you first get a look at the final animation? Did you see storyboards when you first got involved?
MILLER: They show you art and they show you storyboards. The storyboards are really rough so you don’t know what the animation looks like, so the first time I saw the animation – which, I think your right. It’s a merging of Marvel, it’s a merging of Japanime, it’s kind of an East meets West, it’s a merging of comic book art and Disney’s kind of hand drawn look and style – I saw a test, they showed me a lighting test and it was of a trolley going up and then it was of the city at night and as the sun was setting, because they consider all the different refractions of light. It’s so crazy what they do. I just was like the same as you, I was blown away and that wasn’t even final animation. All these guys are perfectionists so they go, “Listen, the lighting and coloring is not totally done, we’re only like 80% on this thing, and the trolley is not completely completed because it’s going to have these little pieces missing.” I didn’t notice any of that. The first time you see it is at the cast screening when the movie’s done and they showed it to us – they worked right up until two hours before the screening – so, it’s an expression, but the print was still warm, because they had just run it.
I had to wait for a screening personally at a theater for an hour and half, because it was still uploading to their server.
MILLER: Michael Bay sometimes works up until the night before it ships to the theaters, so some theaters have to cancel – now they do Thursday night things so he has to send it Wednesday night, but sometimes they would have to cancel the first show on a Friday because it would get there late.
They do a lot of digital stuff now, so I think things have changed, but with the prints it’s crazy.
MILLER: They upload it, but the story I heard was Transformers 2, I think. They were still sending a hard drive, or it was film. He pushed for it to be on film for a long time, for them to do it all digitally and then print it on film.
Let me double back and say that when I saw [Big Hero 6] with the cast, when you see it put together for the first time it just blows your fucking mind. It’s the first time you’ve seen it with music, it’s the first time you see your character interact with all the other characters, it’s the first time you see the full arc, and it was the first time I saws most of Hiro and Baymax’s stuff, because there was no reason for me to see it. So you get to see it as if you’ve never seen any component of it before. They only tested it once in Arizona, and that wasn’t even with full animation, so for some of the filmmaking people, the people who were actually making the film, it was the first time they had seen the completed version of it and it is astounding, you’re right, it’s astounding. It’s an astoundingly beautiful film, it’s a stunningly comic film and it is pioneering in what it’s talking about with the themes, the morality, the vengeance, the laws, the grief, the friendship, and becoming a superhero, what it takes and what makes a Hero. So it was really really mind-blowing.
You’ve done voice over work before. What is your process in the booth? Do you have a process or is it pretty much they’re just telling you lines and you’re just going for it?
MILLER: Yeah, I’ve been very lucky. Cartoon Network, How to Train Your Dragon – I’m in the three How to Train Your Dragon [movies], I do Gravity Falls for Disney, I’ve done some stuff for American Dad and Seth MacFarlane on Family Guy, other little projects, but I do this show called Gorburger, which you should check out. Have you seen it?
I have not.
If only there was a site that listed what people do. Is it called IMDB?
MILLER: [Laughs] It is, yeah. If only certain journalists would do their research.
[Laughs] Right exactly. The truth is, and you know this, you cannot keep up with everything. There’s so much content.
MILLER: Yeah, that’s true. And there’s no zeitgeist anymore, as they’d say in Hollywood.
No, if you tell me it’s worth watching…
MILLER: It is. You check that out, but that’s also a voice over project where I control a giant puppet that a motion capture guy’s inside of and he took over – it’s a giant blue alien that took over a Japanese morning show to interview pop culture icons and indie rock bands. We’ve had Flea and Henry Rollins and Queens of the Stone Age and Jack Black. It’s going to be fucking rad, and Lonely Island is now producing it with me.
Yeah, they’re OK
MILLER: [Laughs] Yeah, they’re OK. They haven’t done well on the internet.
Yeah, they don’t know what they’re doing with viral videos.
MILLER: So yeah, I’ve done a lot of voice over, but this was different because it was an opportunity to come in and shape the character.
And you couldn’t curse.
MILLER: [Laughs] Yeah, fuck that, I cursed, they just didn’t use any of it. This is a real – they really said to me, “T.J., do your comedy. It’s just your voice, it’s your sensibility and we’ll take care of the rest.” And they trusted me knowing that – I’m not a great actor, but I could handle the sentimental parts, handle a little bit of the heart, a little bit of the emotion. And that’s all I really needed to do, because Fred is there to be enthusiastic, to help narrate the film for the audience, and say “This is this point. That’s a supervillain.” All that stuff, but by nature of who’s playing him and who he is, he’s comedic, he’s the comedy.
I actually liked that the characters were aware of the situation. They were realizing – or at least Fred was saying.
MILLER: It’s refreshing, because it’s self awareness, which is something that we’ve all been taught that it’s part of what life is in the post-post-modern world, because you recognize that it’s post-modern and that’s what makes it post-post-modern.
People are going to be reading this like, “What the eff?”
MILLER: Wait ’til I start dropping Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell around. The Nietzschean reference is that Fred helps all these people become who they already are.
Before I run out of time with you, I have to talk about one of my favorite shows, which is-
MILLER: Gravity Falls [laughs].
Exactly – or it airs on HBO. I worship at the ground of Mike Judge, I think he’s a genius.
MILLER: Yeah, he’s a real genius. My wife and I went to his ranch and shot guns with him and Alex Jones, this weird libertarian radio host, and he had a piano. I said, “Do you play the piano?” And he said, “Yeah, I do…” He sat down and he played this beautiful concerto, it was amazing, and at the end of it we were both blown away and we go, “Wow, who was that?” And he’s like, “Oh, it’s me, it’s just something I put together” His mind is – he really is an actual genius.
Listen, he’s also a prophet, because when you look at Idiocracy it is kind of true.
MILLER: It’s prophetic. He’s also made fun of and predicted the downfall of the cubicle culture or at least talked about how bad it is in Office Space. Extract was kind of a grown up Office Space in the sense of talking about the Ennui of being a successful person in America if you don’t have some real passion in your life for something to care about. Yeah man, Silicon Valley, the reason it’s so successful – because usually it takes a while for people to catch on to Mike Judge, I’m sure you’ve always been up on his shit, but it’s real that Silicon Valley just exploded. Because nobody was talking about it. Everybody knows somebody in start ups, and they’re doing satire that is effective, it is an excellent and real reflection of what’s wrong with that tech culture and that tech world, ad it’s just fucking funny man.
And make no mistake, I believe the episode is called “Optimal Tip to Tip Efficiency”—
MILLER: The most complex dick joke ever created.
I mean, my jaw is still on the ground, and when I tell people, “This is one of the best jokes I’ve ever seen on a TV show or a movie or a whatever, it’s genius.
MILLER: It’s great. It’s broad, and it’s incredibly complex and intellectual. Wait until you see this season – the monkey prosthetic arm episode, you’re going to lose your mind.
Where are you at in filming?
MILLER: We start in two weeks, so it will come out in the spring.
Is it six episodes again?
MILLER: No, we’re doing ten.
I like the way you’re talking. Congratulations on everything.
MILLER: Thank you, man.